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Tarot and Rainbows

December 23, 2010

It rained a lot the past few days, setting (smashing, actually) rainfall records for December here in Los Angeles. Today we even had a bit of thunder and lightning (which is uncommon here).  I was really getting tired of all the rain, but then the sun came out, and there it was: a rainbow. And not just a rainbow, but a beautiful double rainbow — such an unexpected thing of beauty!

Double rainbow

There is something both peaceful and spectacular about a rainbow, and as I stood there staring at it in awe, the thought struck me that it’s no wonder that ancient people revered rainbows and assigned them such mythic import.  They are traditionally seen as symbols of hope — the end of gloom and sorrow — and in mythology, they are often seen as a bridge between heaven and earth, and so by extension, they symbolize a bridge between your earthly self and your innate divinity. For example, the Vikings thought there was a rainbow bridge between the Earth and Asgard (the home of the gods) that was accessible to gods and warriors killed in battle, and the ancient Greeks saw the rainbow as the path of the messenger goddess, Iris.

Of course, when I saw this lovely rainbow, I also thought about rainbows in the Tarot.  In the Rider Waite Smith Tarot, there is a rainbow on the Ten of Cups card, and there is one suggested on the Temperance card through the inclusion of Iris flowers on it.  (The Albano Waite deck, a RWS variant, explicitly includes the rainbow.)

The fact that rainbows symbolize a bridge between heaven and earth lends meaning to the Temperance card in that it can indicate balancing our spirituality and our physical existence. The sense of peace and joy we get from seeing a rainbow can be transferred to the Ten of Cups in its aspect as an indication of the joy of a happy, stable relationship or family.

Ten of Cups -- Tarot of the MastersHowever, a rainbow is a bit of an optical illusion, and it moves away as you move toward it, as every leprechaun who has ever hidden a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow knows. And so perhaps the happy, idyllic family scene we see on the Ten of Cups may be a matter of perspective or it may be an unattainable ideal.

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6 Comments
  1. In my post about the ten of cups (I’d link to it, but it’s in Spanish) I pointed out that the Bible says that the rainbow was the symbol of the pact between God and Humanity that there would be no other Universal Flood, and, as you say, that makes it a symbol of hope-every sorrow has an end, there is no unending sorrow.

  2. I think that rain does have you feeling gloomy, kind of a downer at the end there 😉

    Great pic of the rainbows! I never seem to have a camera handy when I see them (or else I’m driving or something).

  3. Hi there,

    Funny, I got both Temperance and 10 of cups in a reading for a friend today!

    The reading was definitely about work-life balance.

    Tell me: how are lilies connected to rainbows? Never knew that!

  4. Oops, Iris, not lily, apologies, just re-read the post!

    • In Greek mythology, Iris was a messenger goddess and the personification of rainbows, hence the traditional association. Perhaps this flower was given the name of the Rainbow goddess due to the wide variety of colors that Irises can have?

  5. Wow, never knew that, thanks! Fascinating stuff.

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